Madisonville Community College is looking to the skies to expand its offerings for area students

During Monday night’s airport board meeting, a possible lease with the college was discussed, said board chairman Jimmy Riddle. The discussion came about after MCC President Dr. Cindy Kelley announced last week the school is building new programs to help the community.

“We have a couple of really new, exciting programs coming online,” she said. “One is aviation. We haven’t been able to talk a lot about it, but we have all the approvals we need, and we’re going to start training pilots in Madisonville. I just think that’s real exciting. And we have also just received approval to have a fermentation science program, so we’re going to look at distilling and brewing.”

Riddle said the topic was placed on the airport’s agenda because the college and the airport will need to sign a leasing agreement before the school can accept students.

Riddle said everyone was on board to sign the lease agreement during Monday’s meeting. However, they didn’t sign it because the school is waiting to finalize a few factors for the program.

Tuesday afternoon, Riddle joined Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation President Ray Hagerman at the college to look at the school’s new fixed-wing and helicopter simulators, which will aid the program.

Hagerman said there is a need for pilots in our area, and this new program will help to solve the shortage.

“The one thing I say to people that are curious about the jobs, between now and 2036, we could mint a new pilot every 15 minutes, and we still wouldn’t have enough,” he said. “That’s because of the retirements, the need with more and more things being delivered through the air, and more and more things being shipped from all over the country. There is just more of a demand for pilots.”

MCC’s CFO Ray Gillaspie said the Red Bird simulators have a full range of motion for pitch, yaw and roll. The simulators are an immersive experience where students will work on their turns with a 200-degree virtual field of few.

Gillaspie said they are programmed with the Madisonville Regional Airport, and students will learn how to take off and land on the local runway.

The college’s Aviation Program Director J. Mike Kehoe said the impact the new simulators will have for students is phenomenal. He said it would be a great place for future pilots to start learning.

Kehoe said the simulator will allow for hands-on training in a more relaxed, learner-friendly environment.

Riddle, who took a test flight in the simulator around Madisonville, said it was the best simulation experience he’s ever had.

“I’ve been flying since ’75, and there hasn’t been anything this nice, and I’ve been to recurrent training every year for 20 years. It wasn’t this nice,” he said.

Gillaspie said the simulators are Federal Aviation Administration approved, meaning students can acquire 50 hours of their training in them.

“Once the program is up and going, it’ll bring new people to the community,” he said.

MCC Vice President Jay Parrent said the hope with their new programs is to grow enrollment.

“We’re providing academic programs to improve our recruitment of students, not just from the area, but even surrounding areas,” he said. “We’re really trying to create things that will attract students from all over.”

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